I came across the story below and it amazed me that less than 8% of students in the cited survey knew that the Civil War was fought to preserve slavery. Here is a little bit about that:
Just a third of students correctly identified the law that officially ended slavery, the 13th Amendment, and fewer than half knew of the Middle Passage. Most alarming, though, were the results to this question:
Which was the reason the South seceded from the Union?
a. To preserve states’ rights
b. To preserve slavery
c. To protest taxes on imported goods
d. To avoid rapid industrialization
e. Not sure
Nearly half blamed taxes on imported goods. Perhaps, the report’s authors guessed, students were confusing the Civil War with the Revolutionary War.
How many students chose slavery as the reason the South seceded?
“Slavery is hard history,” writes Hasan Kwame Jeffries in the report’s preface. He is an associate professor of history at The Ohio State University and chair of the Teaching Hard History Advisory Board. “It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it.”
via Why Schools Fail To Teach Slavery’s ‘Hard History’ : NPR Ed : NPR
I like the term “Hard History” it implies that we ignore or downplay recognizing the dark side of the US and only remember what is “good”. Of course, that brings to mind the quote “history belongs to the victors”.
I kinda think a big part of the problem with students not understanding the hard history of the Civil War is that the folks in the Southern States still will not recognize that it was fought to be able to continue owning another person. And of course, they tell this same tale to their children.
We have to recognize our dark history in order to keep from repeating it. For me, the hardest history is that the founding of this country was based on the largest genocide the world has ever known. At the time of the first European colonies, it is estimated that there were about 80 million people already living in North America, some in very sophisticated societies. As we spread west we systematically destroyed each civilization we encountered. The mentality went something like “they are all just savages, not real people” or to some it is our Manifest Destiny meaning God’s will that we take over this continent.
Yeah, hard history is hard…but necessary to remember.
2 thoughts on “Hard History”
I talk to my much younger nieces and nephews and it is amazing what younger people do not know about our history. it is as if what happened in the past has no meaning. It has nothing to teach us. What’s past is past and who cares. They have no idea of how it effects society today.
They have no idea what life was really like “back then” or how we got to here.
It is appallingly ignorant. And potentially dangerous to society.
I do think though that it is not necessarily unique to the youth of today. I remember back in college 1970 that my friends did not know when Pearl Harbor happened or really understood much about WW2.
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Insightful thoughts here Bob. I guess I was fortunate to have a history teacher in high school who turned me on to the past and what I could learn from it. He was a farmer who also taught history but he made it come alive. I guess we can only hope that enough of us know some history in order to douse some of the ignorant when needed. Thanks for the thoughts.
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